Monday, August 31, 2009

UCLA study: More than 2.2 million Calfornians -- two-thirds of whom have health insurance -- face medical debts

UCLA's Center for Health Policy Research today released a study showing that 2.2 million Californians -- that's more than one in eight non-elderly adults -- face medical debts.

And two-thirds of them have insurance coverage.

"Individuals with medical debt are twice as likely as those without debt to delay or forgo needed health care," the center said, citing the statistic as evidence of the "glaring inadequacy" of the current health insurance system.

More than half of those with medical debts reported hardships, ranging from being unable to pay credit card bills to full-blown bankruptcy.

Also: the survey was done in 2007, before the current recession really started hitting home.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Insurance news: Co-ops and discount health plans...

Some interesting talk this morning about cooperatives as an answer in the health-care overhaul debate:

Washington Post: Cooperatives' Record Weighed in Health-Care Debate: Some herald them as a cure for health care, others question their power and costs.

Huffington Post: Co-ops the equivalent of a `medical unicorn': "One of the leading progressive voices in the House of Representatives declared on Thursday that a co-operative approach for health insurance coverage was such a vague entity -- and political non-starter -- it might as well be a `medical unicorn.'"

In California, state officials have ordered two unlicensed discount health card companies -- Prudent Choice and International Association of Benefits, to stop operating in that state. A third company,, has been ordered to get licensed there.

Here in Washington, a new law requires discount health plans -- which are NOT insurance -- to be licensed here and to file annual financial statements. The companies' marketing materials are required by law to state that these are discount plans and not health insurance, and companies must refund all charges if a customer cancels within 30 days.

In addition, the plans must offer an updated list of cooperating providers, list discounted services, and not restrict access to their providers. Violations are subject to penalties ranging from $100 to $10,000. For more information on this law, click here.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Insurance news today

Seattle Times: Costs for employer-provided health plans are expected to rise more than 10 percent within the next 12 months

NY Times:
-Aetna Chief Says Public Plan a Distraction - Ron Williams, chief executive of the giant insurer Aetna, has been the most vocal insurance executive in favor of an overhaul of the health care system — as long as it does not include a public, government-run health plan.

Washington Post:
 -Why the Health Care Debate Is So Explosive - When Harry Truman first proposed national health insurance, Senate minority leader Robert Taft (R-Ohio) promptly tagged it "the most socialistic measure that this Congress has ever had before it." Shouting socialism in the middle of the red scare detonated a serious charge.

-Why Obamacare Is Failing - At first it seemed plausible that President Obama had a communications problem on health care -- to which the solution was always more and more Obama. But exposure did not translate into persuasion.
National Association of Insurance Commissioners: Lost in the din of this summer's health care debates is one important fact: there is a strong consensus that reform of the health care system is absolutely necessary. Click here to read news release.

Monday, August 24, 2009

News story: As national dialogue turns to co-ops, how does Group Health stack up?

From the Seattle Times:

When Mike Kreidler joined Group Health Cooperative as a staff optometrist in 1972, the co-op's reputation for innovation and quality was such that a Soviet delegation toured the Seattle headquarters to learn how a member-run collective managed to flourish in a capitalist country.

As salaried employees, the doctors and nurses at Group Health "paid a lot of attention to patients because they were effectively your bosses," said Kreidler, now the state's insurance commissioner.

Today it's the people seeking to change the nation's health-care system who are taking a closer look at the Seattle cooperative.

The Obama administration last week endorsed health cooperatives like Group Health as a potential alternative to a government-run insurance plan whose aim is to create competition among insurers and slow soaring health-care costs.

...Yet even some of Group Health's most ardent admirers warn that replicating the co-op would be difficult — and replicating it quickly practically impossible.

The story notes that Group Health has struggled with some of the same problems as other health insurers, such as significant recent hikes in premiums. But it also says that even critics think the co-op's model is worth copying.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

WA Insurance commissioner on health care: Reforms needed, fears overblown

This morning on radio station KUOW, Washington state Insurance Commissioner discussed the nation’s health care system, saying it’s unsustainable and badly in need of reform. He also said that many of the concerns being voiced at town hall meetings are overblown. Excerpt:

“I think that a single-payer system is something that, while certainly having some broad support with a lot of people in our society, is never one that’s going to be broadly applied to everybody in the country. Even if there might be cost advantages to it and you can come up with some pretty logical reasons why it would be preferable, politically it will never happen. We’re not Canadians, we’re not the English, we’re not the Swiss or the Germans or the French. We’re Americans and we’re going to come up with an American solution. Virtually every one of those countries built on the private system that they had that people were knowledgeable and comfortable with. That’s what we’ve got to do in this country. It’s a private insurance market. It’s an employer-based system. That’s what we have. We need to build on that.”

KUOW podcast over the interview is here.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Insurance news...

-In a much-talked-about article Sunday, the New York Times reported that "The White House, facing increasing skepticism over President Obama's call for a public insurance plan to compete with the private sector, signaled Sunday that it was willing to compromise and would consider a proposal for a nonprofit health cooperative being developed in the Senate."

-In a commentary for CNN, former longtime insurance company spokesman Wendell Potter blasts health insurers and their "army of PR people":

Until I quit my job last year, I was one of the leaders of that army. I had a very successful career and was my company's voice to the media and the public for several years.

Potter writes. And he maintains -- citing his two decades of experience in such campaigns -- that much of the opposition to the Obama administration's efforts at health-insurance reform is fueled by ghostwriters within the industry. He writes:

So the next time you hear someone warning against a "government takeover" of our health care system, or that the creation of a public health insurance option would send us down the "slippery slope toward socialism," know that someone like I used to be wrote those terms, knowing it might turn many of the very people who would benefit most from meaningful reform into unwitting spokespeople for the industry.

-In North Carolina, a high-school teacher was arrested for allegedly filing thousands of dollars in false burglary claims, in some cases claiming things that she'd rented. From the North Carolina Department of Insurance press release:

Investigators say she...gave the company several computer print-outs, many from Rent-A-Centers in Durham. An investigator with Liberty Mutual found several of the items Blount claimed stolen were actually still in the store.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Print and save: What to do if you're involved in a car accident

From the Washington state Office of the Insurance Commissioner, here are some tips from you might want to keep in the glove compartment of your car:

What you should do after an accident:

Every driver involved in an accident is legally required to remain at the scene. He or she must also offer aid and give necessary information to others involved and to law enforcement officers.

If you’re involved in an accident:

• Use all means possible to warn oncoming traffic of the danger at the scene.
• Give reasonable aid to the injured. Do not move them unless it is absolutely necessary.
• Notify the Washington State Patrol (WSP), city police or county sheriff, and if needed, request a doctor or aid unit and ambulance.
• Obtain and give necessary information for the accident report, including names of witnesses and police officers.
• If there is any injury or death, or if property damage exceeds $700 to any one person’s property, you must notify the WSP, city police or county sheriff. If you fail to complete a written report, when required, it may result in the suspension of your driver’s license or instruction permit.

It is equally important that you promptly report the incident to your insurance company. Also, you may be subject to other reporting requirements specified in your insurance policy. It is vital that you read your policy and know what you must do to file a claim.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What that auto insurance card in your wallet means...

Just about everyone with auto insurance has been through the drill: Do you want collision? Comprehensive? Personal injury protection? GAP coverage?

To help figure out what's what, we've prepared this guide. It includes a list of companies to check with to if you can't find coverage due to a poor driving record, for example. It also explains things like why car insurers are allowed to charge different rates based on age, say, or gender.

Perhaps most importantly, the guide includes a list of tips to reduce your cost.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Some ways to save on prescription drug costs...

If you can't afford your prescription drugs, there are numerous programs to save you money or, in some cases, get free medication.

Here's a list with links to several such programs. Note: some of them, like the Washington Prescription Drug Program, are limited to residents of Washington state. But several are nationwide.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Looking for financial info on your health insurer?

A couple of people this week wrote inquires to "Ask Mike" searching for financial information on Washington state health insurers. Here's a tool on our website that compares the financial data among health carriers.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

We're hearing from consumers...

It's no surprise in these tough times that the number one caller topic to our Insurance Consumer Hotline is people losing their health insurance. Often it's because they've lost their jobs. But here's a new consumer concern popping up on the hotline: Employers who are cancelling health insurance -- or failing to pay the premiums -- and not notifying their workers they no longer have coverage.

Have a problem with your insurance or need help finding coverage? Call our Insurance Consumer Hotline at 1-800-562-6900. Real people actually answer our phones!

Suggestions for Washingtonians who cannot afford health coverage for their kids...

If you can't afford to buy health insurance for your children, there are several low-cost options in Washington state that may be able to help.

A program called Apple Health for Kids, for example, provides state-subsidized coverage and is free to children in families living on less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. (For a family of three, that's less than $3,052 per month.)

For more information on this and other resources, including a programs for pregnant women and parents of new babies, click here.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Jobless and worried about health coverage? Here are some ideas...

We've compiled a series of tips and suggestions for people struggling to keep their health coverage after losing a job. The page includes a county-by-county list of community clinics in Washington state, information on the federal COBRA law that allows former employees to stay on their health plan (if they pay the full cost) and information regarding veterans, Medicaid eligibility, and more.

Click here to read more.

Kreidler predicts health care reform success

A good Q&A in Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler shares what's different this time around in the national health care reform debate.

Excerpt: "... you're seeing the nature of the problem being redefined as an economic problem much more than a human or moral issue. I think we're starting to realize that the large employers who had historically been resistant to a national health insurance program now are stepping up and viewing it very differently." Click here for full story.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

In D.C.: Health-care reform clears key hurdle...

Good overview and update in the New York Times this morning:

House members headed home on Friday, leaving behind the outlines of a nearly $1 trillion health care overhaul that is sure to draw fire from a variety of interests, but also shows the beginnings of a consensus that would provide insurance for more Americans and give them new rights in dealing with insurers. Click here to read the story.

Politico tries to peer a little further into the future:

But the bill's turbulent passage widened longstanding rifts within his party, rifts that imperil his landmark push for vastly expanding health care coverage when Congress returns to session in the fall. Click here to read more.

And in Slate, there's an interesting -- really -- look at declining insurance enrollments and what it means to insurers and national health care reform. A key point, from writer Daniel Gross:

...(I)t turns out the current arrangement, through which employers are supposed to buy coverage from large insurance firms and enlist their employees to cover the costs, isn't working so well for the insurance industry, either. Click here to read Gross' piece.